On Holy Thursday, the Catholic Church remembers the institution of the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Holy Orders. On that same evening, Jesus gave a Mandatum Novum (new commandment). In the Middle Ages, this day became known as Maundy Thursday from the word, mandatum. St. John Henry Newman teaches us the relationship between Faith and Love in a sermon which bears this title.
He begins by citing St. Paul’s description of love from the second Letter to the Corinthians, and at once he makes note of a difficulty: “if love be such as St. Paul describes, it is not all virtues at once; and I answer, that in one sense it is all virtues at once, and therefore St. Paul cannot describe it more definitely, more restrictedly than he does.”
Immediately, Newman supplies the answer: love is the root of all holy dispositions and grows and blossoms into them: they are its parts; and when this is described, they (the virtues) of necessity are mentioned. Love is the material (so to speak) out of which all graces are made, the quality of mind which is the fruit of regeneration, and in which the Spirit dwells; according to St. John’s words, “Every one that loveth, is born of God;” … “he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.” [1 John iv. 7, 16.]
St. Newman proceeds to compare and contrast faith and love, these two important virtues. He provides an analogy between love and a seed that bears a plant:
“Love, then, is the seed of holiness, and grows into all excellences, not indeed destroying their peculiarities, but making them what they are. A weed has stalk, leaves, and flowers; so has a sweet-smelling plant; because the latter is sweet-smelling, it does not cease to have stalk, leaves, and flowers; but they are all pleasant, because they come of it.”
St. John Henry explains that all these parts of the plant arise from the soul: “In that soul one and all exist in love, though distinct from it; as stalk, leaves, and flowers are as distinct and entire in one plant as in another, yet vary in their quality, according to the plant’s nature.”
Aquinas had earlier taught that charity is the form of all the virtues. By this we can understand that charity gives the other virtues their perfection, or that without charity, those virtues are incomplete. Charity directs all the virtues to the last end (Summa Theologiae II-II, q 23, a 8).
Continuing with the analogy of a plant, Newman notes that love, not faith, is the root of a plant. To make his point he comments: “In our Lord’s parable of the Sower; in which we read of persons who, “when they hear, receive the word with joy,” yet having no “root,” [Luke viii. 13.] fall away. Now, receiving the word with joy, surely implies faith; faith, then, is certainly distinct from the root, for these persons receive with joy, yet have “no root.” However, Newman explains that both virtues work together; he calls love the end, and faith the means.
Newman had plenty of opportunities to practice charity. He displayed patience with the Oratorians with whom he lived, including one whom he thought did not understand him, and another who opposed him. He forgave the latter, Fr. Frederic Faber, and visited him in London when Faber was close to death. Newman exercised patience for years with the Archbishop of Dublin and Archbishop of Westminster in dealing with them over different matters. It was not always easy on him but the future saint persevered in love.
The Lord’s Mandatum Novum was termed “new’ regarding the measure with which we are to love others: “as I have loved you.” At Easter we wish to die with Christ and to rise with Him, in other words, to die to ourselves and live with Christ. Let us ask the Lord to send his Spirit upon us that we might live with his charity, to nourish the roots of our virtues.
“Faith is the first element of religion,” Newman notes, “and love, of holiness; and as holiness and religion are distinct, yet united, so are love and faith.” He urges to be like Samuel in the temple who is the type of love whereas Eli, the priest, is a type of faith. He writes: “Love then is the motion within us of the new spirit, the holy and renewed heart which God the Holy Ghost gives us.”
To love like Christ, we cannot love only those who love us and treat us well. We must be patient with those who are taxing or annoying; we must forgive those who injure us; we must wish well to those who mistreat us. In this way we will be loving as Christ did on the Cross when He prayed: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Consider if there is someone in your family whom you need to understand better or to forgive. Ask the Holy Spirit for a growth in charity that will make your heart more Christ-like.